Takers and Makers

BELL VIEW--So I took a little break for the Summer, but can any of us really get a break these days?

Every time I think of Stephen Miller’s smug face peering out from behind the curtains in the Oval Office I want to strangle a bald eagle. Still, I know my hatred is getting the better of me. I can feel it in the glee so many of my compatriots get from Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest exercise in uber-trolling. Can I help it if this vortex of ugly is starting to make me feel a little queasy? I understand all this hate is getting us nowhere – but I just can’t let go. (Graphic above: Koch brothers.) 

To lighten my spirits during the Summer break, I took a copy of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains with me to the beach. It didn’t work. Interestingly enough, although published after the advent of the Trump presidency, Trump barely warrants more than a paragraph or two in the description of “what’s really happening while all of us obsess over Trump’s latest tweet.”

Turns out, the super-rich have been tinkering with the machinery of democracy with a vengeance since just after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Taking its cues from John C. Calhoun, who literally believed his freedom depended upon the enslavement of an entire race of people, these Ayn Rand wannabes, backed by Charles Koch’s billions, have been tacking the ship of state into the headwinds of democracy in an effort to enshrine economic liberty above all other values.

Boiled down to its basics, the theory goes something like this: the overwhelming concern of the experiment in government known as the United States of America is the protection of liberty. The United States – contrary to popular belief – has never been a democracy, and, the closer we get to the ideal of perfect liberty, the more democracy – or a government of, by, and for “the people” – becomes the enemy of that ideal. Why? Because in a democracy groups can band together to force other people to pay for things the group wants but can’t afford. Why, for example, should Charles Koch contribute one nickel of his untold billions to pay for public schools, social security, Medicare, or public sanitation, when he has the wherewithal to build his own private kingdom from the sweat of his own brow?

That old lady wandering the streets of downtown LA in a dirty hospital gown should have planned better for the day her Alzheimer’s kicked in. Those kids guzzling lead from a garden hose should have had the sense Charles Koch had to be born to rich parents.

The concept of economic liberty – embodied in cases like Lochner v. New York and Adkins v. Children’s Hospital – once gave us the gifts of child labor, Dickensian urban ghettos, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Stay tuned for the 21st Century version of the Gilded Age complete with fire tornadoes, asbestos baby clothes, lead-flavored Kool-aide, and American shanty-towns. All of this sounds so much like the typical conspiracy theory that you could almost be excused for not having heard the outlines of the plan spoken in plain words for decades.

When Republicans talk about half the population being makers and the other half takers,they’ve got the mantra down right in every respect, except the numbers. All those angry, drooling Trumpists who show up to the rallies think they’re in the 50% of the makers – and the rest of us, immigrants, people of color, and Democrats – are takers. But guys like Charles Koch know better. It’s not 50/50, it’s 1/99.

The Koch brothers inherited a company from their father with annual revenues of something like $70 million (not a bad leg-up, if you will) and turned that little nest egg into a private company with revenue of more than $100 billion. Charles Koch is a maker. If you plan to rely on Medicare when you get the chance. If Social Security might come in handy someday. If your kids go to third grade in a public school instead of working in a coal mine. If you live on a street where raw sewage doesn’t run down the middle of an open ditch – then you’re a taker, plain and simple.

That’s the real sleight of hand behind Republican mumbo jumbo. They’ve never hidden their radical libertarian agenda. They just moved the goal posts to make a good chunk of white America believe they were standing on the other side of the velvet rope.    

(David Bell is a writer, attorney, former president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and writes for CityWatch.)